Tennessee Gas sets Nov. 1 target for Otis State Forest pipeline

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Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. says that in the wake of a legal settlement, it aims to construct a new pipeline through a section of the Otis State Forest this year and put it into service Nov. 1.

But pipeline opponent Kathryn R. Eiseman, director of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network, said her group is pursuing its appeal of the state Department of Environmental Protection's water quality permit for the project.

A hearing is scheduled Jan. 10 at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Another hearing on the appeal is set for Jan. 18 at the DEP. No construction can begin until the appeals are resolved, Eiseman said.

In an agreement announced last week, parent company Kinder Morgan will pay $1,280,000 so it can access a right-of-way through the state forest in Sandisfield for its $93 million Connecticut Expansion Project.

That settlement, announced last week by Attorney General Maura Healey and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, includes environmental remedies, replacement land for state conservation, compensation to landowners and recreational upgrades within the 400-year-old woodland preserve.

About $40,000 of the company's settlement with the state includes upgrades to the picnic area and boat ramp at Lower Spectacle Pond in Otis State Forest.

The state acquired the land 10 years ago for $5.2 million.

Tennessee Gas had taken the site by eminent domain last spring. The planned pipeline spur would provide additional natural gas to customers served by three distribution companies in Connecticut.

Richard N. Wheatley, a Kinder Morgan spokesman, said Friday the company is seeking a final hearing in Berkshire Superior Court Feb. 6 for final approval of the consent decree.

He said Tennessee Gas "is pleased" to have settled the dispute with the state, the Department of Conservation and Recreation and others.

The agreement resolves issues — including compensation to Sandisfield property owners — raised by Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini in a decision last May 9.

In his ruling that the U.S. Natural Gas Act overrides the state's constitutional protection against intrusion into state-conserved land, Agostini awarded temporary and permanent easements through 2.3 miles of the state forest for a new underground natural gas pipeline adjacent to existing lines.

Federal regulators issued a certificate of approval for the project last March.

Agostini stated that the federal approval "does not give Tennessee an unrestrained right to ignore the Commonwealth. Instead, the certificate expressly requires Tennessee to make a good faith, reasonable effort to cooperate with state and local agencies regarding the location of pipeline facilities, environmental mitigation measures and construction procedures."

STATE'S FINDING

The state's Energy and Environmental Affairs Office issued a finding last year that the project "adequately and properly" complied with the requirements of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.

In addition to the loop through Otis State Forest, the project involves three spurs totaling 13.4 miles near Bethlehem in Albany County, N.Y., and from Agawam into northern Hartford County in Connecticut.

Announcing the agreement, Healey stated "this settlement requires Tennessee Gas to provide important mitigation relief during the construction of the project and assure no net loss of critical conservation land in the area."

Beaton pointed out that the agreement allows the state "to acquire additional land for future preservation that will truly benefit generations of people within the Berkshire County region and beyond."

OPPONENT'S STANCE


Eiseman, of the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network, said the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet issued a permit under the U.S. Clean Water Act, and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has raised concerns involving historical preservation of ancient stone monuments.

Other potential issues involve the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, who may not have been sufficiently included in other tribal consultations, according to FERC.

When the state purchased the Otis State Forest woodlands in 2007, the Department of Conservation and Recreation had identified the area as one of the most significant land protection opportunities for Massachusetts. The acquisition was completed in order to protect land that contains a 400-year old Eastern Hemlock forest, rare plant and animal species, historic sites, rolling meadows and the 62-acre Lower Spectacle Pond.

Reach contributor Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.




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